A great dawn alternative
What we say:
The results of the painstaking reconstruction of the Bakong are impressive. If you're planning more than just a day or two exploring the monuments, be sure to make time for here.
Before its reconstruction, little remained of Bakong aside from a pile of rubble atop a small hill. Initial clearing work didn't commence until 1936 and the eventual reconstruction under the direction of Maurice Glaize (the conservator of Angkor from 1937 to 1945) took around seven years to complete.
Consecrated in 881 AD during the reign of King Indravarman I, the construction of the Bakong is believed to have been initiated by Indravarman's predecessor, Jayavarman III and became the state temple of Hariharalaya (modern-day Roulos). The layout of the site closely follows the principles of modelling Mount Meru with the moat surrounding the inner sanctum of five levels, with 10 small temples surrounding a tiered tower whose spire resembles the turreted, curved points of Angkor Wat. From the apex of the site, the model plan is quite obvious.
Potted plants and flowering bushes line the path that leads over the moat and into the temple complex. Once inside, a pagoda is to your right that, when we visited, looked like it was in the process of being rebuilt. The grounds within the moat include a collection of smaller buildings in variable states of repair and the view from the northeast corner takes in the whole complex pretty well. When you climb each of the five levels, make the time to walk all the way around before continuing up to the next level. Note the little elephants on each corner — even the harness details are still visible on some. On the fourth level, be sure to walk around to the south side where a fine fragment of bas relief remains, illustrating apsaras fighting a losing battle.
When you reach the top level, turn and look back to the east for a tremendous view that illustrates the plan of the complex very well. To the west side we're told you can see Angkor Wat, but we couldn't — perhaps with binoculars it's possible.
Exit the temple to the west, going straight down, and you'll stumble upon the remains of Nandi, Shiva's favourite bull. There is actually one at the base at each of the cardinal points, but the one at the west is the most bull-like, even if it still looks more like a cow.
Set a little over a kilometre off the main Siem Reap to Phnom Penh road at the 13km mark, Bakong is particularly splendid at dawn, and makes a fine contrast to the crowded scenes you're likely to come across at Angkor Wat and some of the other more popular monuments. The landmine victim playing his khem at one of the entrances is very talented.
More detailsRoulos Group
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